Couch potatoes are among the most dangerous of vegetables.

            One second they’re listlessly lounging on the worn cushions of the Scotch Guard-coated divan, then the cable goes out in the middle of the big game, and they jump to their feet bellowing.  They click the remote five, ten, a hundred times.  It’s no use — the signal is gone.  They bellow like a wounded Cape Buffalo.  An unsuspecting mate wanders into the rec-room from the kitchen to investigate.  The poor woman is bludgeoned with a bowling trophy before the words, “What is it, dear?” can escape her mouth.

            At first there was a murmur.  I was standing in front of the display row, blocking anyone’s view of the TV’s where I was making my dub of that horrible tape.  At first I just figured that there had been a bad referee’s call on the game that everyone was watching.  Football fans can take those kinds of things personally.

            After another fifteen seconds the murmurring got louder.  In fact, it turned into kind of a low grade growling, punctuated by an ocassional gasp.  Within thirty seconds, there were angry shouts coming from the crowd.  A woman three rows away from the video display looked up and looked at the fifty yard-long bank of screens.  I watched as her face turned from suburban to primitive.  She pointed and screamed.  It was one of the most frightening screams I had ever heard.  One part shock and disbelief and one part bloodlust and fury.

            I turned around and almost fell over.  Somehow I had plugged something in wrong.  Or else the series of connections that put the same picture on all the televisions was in some kind of curcuit that I was unfamiliar with.  I couldn’t think.  On every picture tube, flat plasma, and monitor was the sickening image of Torey’s humiliation.  Two hundred identical images in every size, 19 inch to 78 inch, in every resolution, on a billion pixels – a hand reached out, a ring flashed its bright color.  Brilliant, horrifyingly true colors arched across the store and into my eye.

            I was in shock — so was every customer in the back, middle, and soon even the front of the store.  The buzz spread.  There was anger and near panic.  I felt both emotions as well.  Employees started running towards the back of the store.  A pimply-faced kid with a name tag labeled “Buster” stood frozen, staring up at the perverted images.  A woman in a red smock, probably an assitant manager, rushed up behind him and yelled, “Turn it off!  Turn off the display!”

            Buster started button after button on a remote that he tugged out of his pocket.  Half the screens went blank with one punch.  Then another button and the other half of the pictures blinked black, but the half that had been off snapped back on.  Buster just kept pushing buttons.  The horror flashed on and off, left, right, top row, bottom row, on and off. 

            I finally got in a good breath.  I spun around and ripped out the tapes.  All the screens finally lost the signal.  But the angry shouts only intensified.  The cassettes ejected with maddening slowness.  I quickly stuffed them into my jacket and took off towards the front of the store.

            Everyone was in shock.  I kept looking in their faces, afraid someone would realize that I was the one who had brought the evil into the Christmas shopping holy place.  No one looked at me.  People were still staring towards the huge bank of blank video screens.  Like Lot’s wife, I looked back.  There was a flicker, then all two hundred screens were covered with Purple Wildcats and Red Cornhuskers colliding, tackling, and grunting in stereo wide-screen sanctioned violence.

            Employees were still racing here and there.  It was chaos.  I started to run, then remembered the security cameras and slowed down.  I had to blend in.  I looked over by the video game machines – no Torey.  I went back to the shelves full of “Grand Theft Auto” – no Torey.  I even tried household appliances and computers – no Torey.

            I sat down on a vibrating recliner.  I was having trouble breathing.  I’d found Torey, and now I had lost him again.  I was angry at myself, and to tell the truth, I was angry at Torey.  I shouldn’t have trusted him.

            I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but it was true at that moment.  I was putting all my failure on him.  I was a bad father.  Hell, I’d been no father at all.  I actually had another thought pop into my head:  “How could Torey have let all this happen.”  It’s the cruelest of impulses.  The seemingly natural way it appears in our minds when something like the sexual abuse of kids happens is the most frightening damage that form of raw evil can inflict. 

            “How could he have let it happen?”  That thought overcame me, and with only an inch of mutation, my own rape memories resurfaced, and I was thinking – without thinking – “How could I have let it happen to me?”

            I should have been Torey’s father.  No matter what Kim wanted, or the mortal sin of betraying my own brother, or the consequences of my selfish indulgences, I should have demanded that the kid know.  I should have stepped up and been the best kind of dad I could be, even if I’d been a disaster at it.  The truth is always better than the rationalization.  “It’s all my fault.”  I kept thinking that.  It wasn’t self pity.  It was the truth.

            I looked everywhere in the store.  Torey was nowhere to be found.  I considered asking the manager to page him, but even though I was not thinking clearly, I had enough sense left to realize that would be crazy.  Finally I just left.  I walked out into the night and stood there sucking in the cold air and trying to exhale all the guilt.  Of course, I couldn’t just exhale the tumor of self-blame inside my gut.  That’s not how life works.

            It took me a few minutes to remember where I had parked the car.  When I finally found the right row in the lot, I couldn’t remember what kind of car I’d stolen.

            “Shit.”  I shouted it as loud as I could.  “Shit.”

            “Took you long enough.”  Torey was sitting in the Sebring not twenty feet to my right.

            “Torey.”  I almost started crying.

            “Dad.”  He had a grown-up chunk of sarcasm in that word.

            “Where?”  I had to half bend over.  I actually felt faint.

            “Nice distraction, Dad.  Thanks.”

            I kind of sleepwalked over to the driver’s side door and got into the car.  “Distraction?’

            “Yeah.  Pretty ballsy throwing that tape up on all those screens.  Sure made it easy for me to walk out of there.”  Torey had a PS2 box on his lap.  The videogame cartridge he’d lifted was sitting on top.  “It was pretty funny.”

            I almost hit him — I wanted to.  Torey was a fucked-up kid.  His own filthy assault up on two hundred screens in public, and it was funny to him.  He was damaged goods.  What could I say?  I’m damaged goods myself.

            “Yeah, Torey.  Funny.”  I was angry.  I was worried, too.  I’d seen the colors.

            I twisted the key, revved the engine, and got back onto the road.  I drove pretty fast.  Being alone with Torey was beyond my tolerance at that point.  We headed back to Val’s.  We didn’t speak a word the whole trip.

I bounced the tires off the curb when we got there, turned off the car and took a deep breath.  I walked arround to the sidewalk and opened the passenger door.  Torey got out of the car slowly.  He was holding the PS2 box like a life preserver.  I led him up the steps and opened the door.

            Sally Rosemond stood in the kitchen with her hands on her hips.  This had all the makings of a Greek epic.  Ulysses was home, but the place was overrun with suitors for his wife, Penelope.  Where was my bow?

            There’s something else you need to know.  When I met Valerie, she was involved in a committed relationship, a very deep and meaningful affair of two souls joined by fate.  But I broke that spell.

            It’s another sin on my ledger.  I was a home wrecker.

            And there in front of me stood my old rival,  Ms. Sally Rebecca Rosemond.

            I told you, my life is complicated.


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